If you’ve recently attended an auction to try to buy tax lien properties, you were probably disappointed when it turned out a little more difficult than you thought. Many rookie tax sale investors think that it will be easy to waltz into a tax sale and walk away with a nice property for pennies on the dollar. The truth is, it’s extremely difficult to buy tax lien properties at the actual tax sale. If you ARE able to, there are a lot of pitfalls you’ll have to watch out for once you’re successful.In the last several decades, big companies have sprung up that dedicate their entire business to investing in tax lien properties at the tax sale. These companies have teams of lawyers and researchers whose sole purpose it is to research the properties coming up for sale at auction, and to determine which properties are worth buying. Since these companies have seemingly endless resources, they are able to make a smaller return on their money than the average investor, and still have be worth their while– meaning that you will likely be outbid on the properties you go to the auction intending to buy.Something some hopeful tax sale investors also don’t realize is that the delinquent owner of the property has a year, or sometimes longer, to pay off the back taxes, penalties, and interest, and redeem the property. So if you’re hoping to end up actually owning these properties, it’s very unlikely that that will happen. Owners almost always pay their taxes off in time, even more so on the nice properties you’ve got your eye on.Also keep in mind that you will not be able to inspect the interior of any property you would be bidding on. You may be able to drive by, but it’s not going to tell you whether a nightmare lies within. So even if you do have the winning bid, tax lien properties can end up being trashed on the inside and require a lot more work than you expected to make a profit. This can be disastrous, and end up costing you money in the long run.The best thing to do if you want tax lien properties is to buy them directly from their delinquent owners during the redemption period (after tax sale, but before the date they finally permanently lost the home). You can actually benefit from the big companies’ research here by going after the properties they’ve bought, and save yourself a lot of work.You’ll be surprised to find that many of the owners of these tax lien properties are not people who are down on their luck, and couldn’t pay their taxes. Often they are absentee owners (people like ex-landlords, heirs, or owners of vacation/second home properties) who got tired of maintaining a distant property and decided to just let it go to tax sale. Find these owners that already decided to let the property go, and you’ll find a subset of sellers willing to let you have their properties for a few thousand dollars– or, more often than you’d expect, even a few hundred.And you’ll get to inspect the property, before committing to buy it!